By Alex Davies
Published 6th July 2018

New CEO Dan Mondor has been busy overhauling the management team at Inseego, looking to capture a nice slice of the pie for Inseego – a company specializing in wireless gateways and associated software that used to be called Novatel Wireless, best known for MiFi. Bringing in Ashish Sharma as CMO, who Mondor has known for nearly 15 years, the plan is to ride the wave of networking transformation that is being brought about by the IoT and 5G.

Riot’s view on 5G is largely influenced by the current state of 4G, in that there is still nowhere near 100% territorial coverage for LTE, and therefore the viability of LTE-based IoT projects is somewhat confined to the existing footprint – which is focused around high-value urban areas.

As such, applications that need licensed LPWAN outside these areas are at the mercy of the MNOs to actually build out sufficient coverage, and given that 3G still doesn’t have such a footprint in most markets, they’re at something of an impasse. It’s something that Riot is quite cynical about – and something that is delaying wide-area IoT deployments.

Mondor and Sharma don’t share that same level of cynicism, however, with Mondor noting that good things come to the patient – adding that 5G is the next great evolution in telecoms, which will start at fixed mobile (microcell) before expanding outward into mobility applications (macrocell). There’s a lot of money in microcells, even if that macrocell build-out is slow.

Inseego has a lot of experience with such microcells, selling small cell access points to many MNO customers, as well as supporting software and services. Its IoT plans center around more of these gateways, but also in running some edge-processing on them to enable more valuable IoT and 5G applications.

In terms of time-frame, Inseego anticipates some trials and commercial tests in 2018, with 2019 being the beginning of the ramp-up. Mondor noted that 5G was easy to say, but much harder to develop. At the moment, MNOs are still exploring the business model for 5G, and there’s a danger that private 5G deployments, using gateways from the likes of Inseego, could disrupt what has been a pretty cushy existence up till now.

The Inseego team said that 5G could be much quicker to deploy than 4G, as it can (to some extent) be overlaid on the existing LTE backbone, which should enable a much smoother transition. This should, it is thought, enable a rapid roll-out – but there’s still work to be done on the chipsets.

At the moment, nearly all are using something from Qualcomm. There will be new entrants in this space, but as with all chips, the early versions are expensive – with prices only falling once sufficient volume has been reached. Mondor said that, however, the market was hungry even for these expensive chips, and that moving forward, prices should start to come down some time in the second half of 2019.

By 2020, they are anticipated to be comparable with high-end LTE chipsets.

As for the licensed LPWAN offerings, which now have even more variants for you to remember thanks to Release 14 (Cat-M1, Cat-M2, Cat-NB1, Cat-NB2), Mondor said that these are happening now and are not waiting for 5G to arrive. He stressed that early 5G is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of its planned capabilities (high speed, low latency), and so the ecosystem can’t exactly wait for it to trickle down.

Another wrinkle to consider is that 5G is, initially at least, being deployed in completely different spectrum to LTE. Because of this, there won’t be such an immediate pressure on the operator to refarm the older protocol’s frequency allocation into a more lucrative newer generation, as can be seen with the pressure on 2G and even 3G, as MNOs want to reuse that spectrum in LTE.

In addition, according to the Inseego pair, low-power IoT devices are going to be using very small amounts of frequency, so not as much needs to be set aside for them. Because of this, the MNOs should be able to ring-fence certain bits of spectrum for sole use by the IoT devices, without ever having to view that slice as a lost revenue opportunity.

Towards the end of our conversation, we asked what the biggest threat to Inseego was. Mondor said that besides the standard market concerns, the biggest worries were things that are not in their control. Finding, hiring, and retaining talent was cited as perhaps the biggest threat, with Inseego not particularly worried about its competitors’ capabilities but more so the acquisition and retention of qualified engineers.

As for its services wing, Inseego acquired Ctrack to bolster its Enterprise SaaS offering, which found success with Dutch KLM airline back in January, which uses Ctrack Aviation Asset Tracking and Management in its Hong Kong International Airport operations. In this, Ctrack is providing the tracking devices (GSM and GPS) that are then monitored by its networking equipment and presented via the Ctrack dashboard.

At the end of June, KLM announced a global strategic partnership with Inseego, which will see it deploy Inseego’s Ctrack Ground Support Equipment (GSE) system for its KLM Equipment Services (KES) operations. “We are pleased to combine forces with Inseego to improve our ability to serve existing and new customers with exact asset/fleet status,” said John Engelaan, managing director of KES. “Inseego has a rich history of deploying fleet management solutions and has quickly become the global standard in aviation. We look forward to delivering unparalleled value to our current and new customers through an integrated solution.”